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Sat Jun 16, 2012 1:21AM
Liu Yang

Liu Yang

China is preparing to send its first woman astronaut into space on a nearly weeklong mission to attempt a manned docking with a module as part of its drive to set up a space station. The Associated Press identified the “taikonaut” as Liu Yang, a 34-year-old Air Force fighter pilot, saying she will be launched along with two male colleagues on Saturday aboard the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft. Chinese space program spokeswoman Wu Ping said the launch is scheduled for 1237 GMT Saturday. The crew will attempt to dock with the Tiangong (Heavenly Palace) 1 module, which was launched last September and is part of China's exploratory preparations for a space lab. The mission is a key step in China’s quest to become the third country to set up a permanent space station in orbit, with the United States and Russia currently being the only countries to have done so. Having previously launched manned spacecraft, China is already in that exclusive three-nation club. Liu is being accompanied by two male colleagues, identified as Jing Haipeng and Liu Wang, who are both Air Force colonels. China announced in May that it had successfully placed its 12th and 13th navigation satellites into orbit on the Long March satellite carrier rocket. It was the first time China had launched two navigation satellites with a single rocket. China said at the time the two navigation satellites would help improve the accuracy of its Beidou global navigation and positioning network. Beijing wants to develop its own global navigation network similar to the GPS by 2020. KA/MF/HGL
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